Every Halloween, Linus van Pelt of "Peanuts" fame, stands like a sentinel in a pumpkin patch, hoping to witness the mystical materialization of the Great Pumpkin.
The Great Pumpkin is similar to other supernatural holiday characters like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. And in the comic strip world created by Charles M. Schulz, the mythic arrival of the Great Pumpkin on Halloween is simply the bi-product a hyperactive, pre-pubescent imagination.
But this fall, there's a similar scene in the parliamentary pumpkin patch which doubles as the United States Capitol.
As Halloween approaches, many Members of Congress are just as enthusiastic as Linus. While they're not on the lookout for the Great Pumpkin, they are anticipating the arrival of something nearly as spectral. Democrats and Republicans alike want to see if the special supercommittee, charged with finding $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, can hit its mark. Everyone is anxious to see exactly what those reductions might look like whether the recommendations can make it through the House and Senate by Christmastime.
And at the rate things are reportedly going with the supercommittee, some may find it more productive to join Linus in the pumpkin patch and wait out the Great Pumpkin.
Information about the internal deliberations of the supercommittee is scarce. Time is running short. It has to produce a bill targeting deep cuts by November 23. But the witching hour for the supercommittee really falls around Halloween. It's widely expected that the supercommittee must rush a draft (or drafts) of its proposals to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) by October 31 to obtain a "score." In other words, a "score" will reveal just how close the supercommittee is to the goal of $1.2 trillion in spending reductions. The CBO may need to conduct multiple runs of various scenarios to determine how close the supercommittee can get to the target figure and whether there's need to tweak the proposals.
This process could take several weeks, which is why the "soft" Halloween deadline looms.
Of course, the supercommittee needs to do this or the government will be on course to "sequester" (or declare off limits) $1.2 trillion in spending next year. It's widely believed many of those cuts could originate in the defense sector. If Congress fails to initiate the cuts via legislation and the sequester kicks in automatically, global financial markets could tumble and credit ratings agencies could pin the federal government with a negative rating.
Here's the problem: at present, sources close to the supercommittee believe that members are stuck in the fiscal equivalent of a corn maze, wandering around, trying to agree on a plausible dollar figure to from which to work.
But this is a serious threat. So is it any wonder that top Congressional leaders from both parties have joined Linus in the Capitol Hill pumpkin patch, waiting for the supercommittee to arrive with its plan?
"Failure is not an option," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). "This committee is going to succeed in meeting at least the floor that's established in the legislation."
"(The cuts) will either happen by the work of this committee or it will happen by sequestration," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). "I hope it will happen by the work of this committee. And we hope that it will go farther than that to go to $4 trillion."
"I think the joint selection committee will be successful in reaching the goal of getting at least $1.2 trillion in cuts," predicted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).
"The joint select committee must succeed," warned House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
In the animated TV special "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," the title character's impressionable sister Sally accompanies Linus to stand watch all night in the pumpkin patch. Finally Snoopy shows up and Linus mistakes the dog for the Great Pumpkin.
Sally is incredulous and excoriates Linus for bamboozling her into standing post instead of going trick-or-treating with her friends.
"I was robbed!" Sally lectures. "You kept me up all night waiting for the Great Pumpkin and all that came was a beagle! I could have had candy apples and gum! What a fool I was!"
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) is one of the 12 supercommittee members. Since his appointment to the panel, Van Hollen has repeatedly suggested that despite its best efforts, the supercommittee could still come up short. If that happens, many lawmakers, to say nothing of the markets, the ratings agencies and the press, will feel like Sally, duped into waiting in the Congressional pumpkin patch all autumn long in hopes of some electrifying event.
Regardless, there is another potential supercommittee outcome which could mirror the "Great Pumpkin" TV show.
During the cartoon, Charlie Brown, Lucy and the rest of the neighborhood gang go trick-or-treating. After each house, the kids compare their bounty. One child scores a chocolate bar. Someone else collects a package of gum. There's a popcorn ball. Even a quarter.
But Charlie Brown's take is consistent at each home.
"I got a rock," laments Charlie Brown, over and over.
If the supercommittee completes its work on time and conjures $1.2 trillion in spending reductions, there are sure to be winners and losers. There will be the programs that "won," just dodging the Congressional scalpel. Those associated with those programs will feel like the kids who got the popcorn balls and chocolate bars in their bags.
And then there are the losers. They are the ones who represent programs or agencies which the supercommittee elected to cleave.
Call those folks "Charlie Brown." They'll certainly feel like they received a rock at every stop.
As the supercommittee moves into its final phases, it's hard to imagine the stakes being much higher. There's sure to be lots of speculation and "sourced" newspaper accounts about what supercommittee members are thinking and where the endgame could take this.
But as has been the custom of the 12 supercommittee members throughout the negotiations, no one is talking. That leaves reporters, aides, lawmakers and lobbyists to only cogitate on what's going on behind closed doors.
As Linus said in the TV show, "there are three things you don't discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin."
And this fall there is one thing members of the supercommittee don't discuss: the state of their deliberations. To exasperated reporters, their platitudes sound like little more than the school teachers on Peanuts: garbled sounds generated by a plunger mute on a trombone.
Which is why for now, everyone on Capitol Hill is standing vigil in the Congressional pumpkin patch, just waiting for the supercommittee to arrive with its report.
Much like the Great Pumpkin.